We look at the word-processing software's history
As Word celebrates its 25th birthday, we look back at the changes and challenges Microsoft's flagship word-processing program has been through during its first quarter-century.
The version diversion
After launching its Windows Word as version 1.0, Microsoft naturally followed with Word 2.0 (1991). Then something odd happened. WordPerfect released version 6.0 of its highly successful WordPerfect software, and it proved to be Microsoft Word's main competitor of the time. To stay afloat in the version-number race, Microsoft decided to align its Windows version numbers with its MS-DOS and Mac version numbers, producing Word for Windows 6.0 in 1993.
Later, Microsoft sought an exit to the version-number game entirely: its next Windows Word release switched to year-based branding (Word 95) that matched the launch of Windows 95. But once Microsoft gained full control of the word-processing market, weird things began to happen to its most important office application.
The birth of Clippy
Word 97 (1997) launched the one feature Word users generally loathe the most: The Office Assistant. By default, the assistant was 'Clippit' (often called 'Clippy'), a talking, dancing paperclip with slanted eyes, who spied on your progress and insisted on telling you what you were doing. Like a well-intentioned child offering assistance with a complicated task, instead of helping, Clippy just got in the way.
Certain Microsoft veterans seemed to agree: when asked how he felt about Clippy, Word 1.0 author Richard Brodie replied, "Like a cat feels about a bath". Simonyi expressed a similar sentiment.
In Word 2000 for Windows, Microsoft included a questionable interface design change. Called 'personalised menus', the feature ideally made Word easier to use (key word: 'ideally'). It worked by keeping track of your most-used menu items and showing only those by default, while hiding the rest of your drop-down menu choices. To see those, one had to click on a tiny arrow to expand the drop-down menu.
Thankfully, users could turn this feature off, but figuring out how was not as obvious as it should have been. Clippy should have told us.
One of the most common criticisms of Word is how the application has become bloated with features over the years, as it tries to be all things to all people. This trend couldn't be more vividly illustrated anywhere than in a zealous, all-out activation of every toolbar in Word 2000.
The icons on these toolbars do things that most of us don't need and don't understand, and yet those options (and the features they represent) persist, allowing Microsoft to continue its full-spectrum domination of the word-processor marketplace. Were you ever crazy enough to have all these toolbars up at once?
NEXT PAGE: Farewell Clippy